The Cornell Big Red were making their first NCAA appearance and were attempting to become the first team outside the WCHA to claim the NCAA title in the last decade. At the same time, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs wanted to see the trophy stay with their conference for the 10th straight year.
The title would not be claimed easily, as the game turned into a marathon lasting almost six full periods, becoming the longest title game in NCAA history. It finally ended with 34 seconds remaining in the third overtime with UMD finally prevailing 3-2 to claim the national championship.
Seniors Emmanuelle Blais and Jaime Rasumussen scored in the third period for the Bulldogs (31-8-2 overall, 20-6-2 WCHA), while freshman Jessica Wong tallied the championship winning goal and Jennifer Harss was stellar in net, finishing the night with 51 saves. This was UMD’s fifth NCAA title, and second in the past three years.
“They had a great work ethic,” said UMD coach Shannon Miller. “If you have that in the beginning, you know you’ll accomplish some great things over the course of the season.”
Cornell Senior Melanie Jue scored twice for the Big Red, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Bulldogs. Sophomore Amanda Mazzotta turned aside 61 shots in the loss.
“It’s not always about the outcome of games” said head coach Dough Derraugh. “It’s about the effort. It’s about showing heart, and playing your best. I thought my team did that tonight.”
Neither team was able to score in the opening period, although both sides had plenty of opportunities. When successful, UMD’s forecheck would create several turnovers and give the Bulldogs some punch. However, for long stretches in the first period, UMD’s forecheck would be stymied by the quick puck movement of Cornell’s defensemen, and the Big Red would dominate the game territorially.
Cornell’s best chances were mainly generated by long periods of offensive zone possession, especially when they were able to work the puck behind the Bulldog net. Time and time again, Harss stood her ground as her defenders were able to tie up sticks and clear the puck away from the crease.
After a mostly penalty free first frame, the second period would be marked by seven penalties resulting in two power-play goals.
Cornell struck first at 13:44 of the second. Lauriane Rougeau notched the first goal of the game on the power play, threading a shot through traffic in front of the net. The goal was the defenseman’s eleventh of the season and fourth on the power play.
The 1-0 lead would hold up through the end of the middle frame, but a Cornell penalty with 49 seconds left would carry over into the third period.
The Bulldogs would waste no time taking advantage of the extra skater — evening the score at 1-1 just 18 seconds into the third. Emmanuelle Blais got off a shot that Mazzotta stopped, but Blais tracked down her rebound and banged in the second chance. This was her 32nd goal of the season, the most in the nation.
The third period saw the ice tilt in the favor of the Bulldogs. The early goal got their fans back into the games, and several “U-M-D” chants broke out in support of the team. Whether feeding off of this, or in knowing they could beat Mazzotta, UMD swarmed for much of the period with several dangerous transition rushes and long periods of puck possession.
Cornell got their chances as well, and when they were able to gain the offensive zone, were often able to cycle the puck around, work it from behind the UMD net, and create pressure based chances.
With just over six minutes left in regulation, UMD’s offensive pressure paid off as they earned a power play opportunity. Again it wouldn’t take long for them to score, as Saara Tuominen’s pass found Jaime Rasumussen open on the back door with a wide open net staring her in the face. She buried the chance to put her Bulldogs up 2-1 with around five minutes left to play.
Cornell would not go quietly though, and put on some of the most intense offensive pressure of the game. The Big Red’s cycle kept the Bulldogs chasing the puck in their own zone for almost two full minutes as UMD was unable to clear the puck.
Cornell captain Liz Zorn made a great individual play to keep the puck from crossing into the neutral zone, and her efforts were rewarded shortly after. Melanie Jue scored the first even strength goal of the game on a rebound that she backhanded over a sprawled Harss. With three and a half minutes to go we were tied yet again, this time with the score 2-2.
The first 60 minutes made for a great game by themselves; if the game had ended in regulation it would have been an exciting and memorable experience by any definition. What happened after regulation resulted in this becoming one of the best games ever played at this level, as the two teams skated for almost another 60 minutes before a champion was crowned.
Both teams received chances in overtime. In the first two overtimes, it felt like Cornell was controlling the game by keeping the puck in the UMD zone for long periods of time as well as working their cycle and creating flurries in front of the net. UMD’s chances were mostly based on transition and were often forced to the outside by Big Red’s defensemen.
Time after time Mazzotta and Harss came up huge to keep their teams alive, gloving shots that seemed marked for the top corner, kicking away rebounds, smothering pucks loose in the crease, and staying calm and poised throughout.
From the latter parts of the second overtime onward, fatigue seemed to come into play. UMD started to mix their third line into play more often and the fresh legs paid off, as the players seemed to have plenty of jump. Whether it was the energy of UMD’s third line, Cornell starting to tire, or simply finding the mental willpower to go out and win, UMD started to dominate play more than they had all game.
Shots in the final two overtimes were 24-10 in favor of UMD. The Bulldogs were able to cycle the puck more successfully as well as clear the puck out quicker when Cornell was pushing offensively. Even with the shot disparity, UMD still was not able to capitalize and it seemed like this game could easily be headed for a fourth overtime.
With around two and a half minutes left, Cornell took a tripping penalty. UMD was not able to score on their power play but did hold the zone, and as Rougeau rushed out of the penalty box down the blue line, Tara Gray held the puck at the point.
Rougeau tried to lift Gray’s stick off the puck, but Gray was able to fight her off and fire the puck on net. Jessica Wong got the blade of her stick on the puck, deflecting it down through Mazzotta and into the net, setting off a wild celebration as the Bulldogs streamed off the bench while Big Red players lay stunned on the ice.
Neither team gave an inch nor left anything behind. This was a fitting game for a championship, with both sides giving their all from start to finish and putting on a great show. Even though Cornell fell one goal short, they certainly played with the poise and skill required of a champion.
“I want to congratulate Shannon (Miller) and Minnesota-Duluth”, said Derraugh. “They went out and they took it. They deserved to win. I told [my team], even though they aren’t the NCAA champions they should still hold their heads and consider themselves champions this year.”
“I want to make a comment about Cornell”, said Miller. “I thought they were amazing — absolutely amazing. Both teams with a very strong will to win. You saw it in every footrace and every battle, every single shift.”
In the end, UMD’s will to win helped them overcome a determined opponent and capture a national title.
It’s a good day to be a Bulldog.
“I’m really proud, obviously to win our fifth national championship and also for the University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s hockey program, for the University, and for the city of Duluth, said Miller.